Editorial: Politics and kids

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We are quick to judge and even quicker to anger when we hear about another failure related to the Department of Children and Families.

High-profile cases, such as that of 2-year-old Avalena Conway-Coxon, who died Aug. 15 while in foster care in Auburn, raise our collective consciousness long enough to hear that this time will be different. This time there will be real reform.

And we go back about our lives.

And nothing substantive changes.

And another child dies.

It’s too early to know what exactly happened to Avalena. However, as it relates to the culture and management of DCF, does it matter?

We hear how the agency is chronically underfunded, how the system is being pushed past its limits.

Today we got a look at how a long-term problem was made worse. Our reporting in today’s edition makes it clear that protocols changed in the aftermath of the disappearance of 5-year-old Jeremiah Oliver in 2013 were both well-intentioned and catastrophic.

The Jan. 6, 2014, directives, which were meant to identify and protect at-risk youth, simply overwhelmed a system that wasn’t built to handle the extra load.

In this case the union, SEIU Local 509, was correct in assessing what the directive meant without an increase in funding.

That still leaves the questions, “Who’s to blame?” and “What can we do to fix it?”

The blame lies squarely with the culture of DCF management.

“All these secretaries and commissioners think their life’s blood is based on whether they can live within that budget instead of pushing back and saying we could use a little more money here,” said state Rep. James O’Day, D-West Boylston.

What is most troubling about this is that citizens should expect that whoever leads the troubled agency would be the strongest advocate for additional resources.

He or she should be the person who uses the bully pulpit to remind us that all the keys to identifying and helping at-risk youth lie in allowing social workers the time to do their jobs properly.

He or she should be the person who reminds us that the problems of youth violence, dropout rates and the school-to-prison pipeline can be reduced if there are enough social workers and they have the tools to do their jobs properly.

Politics is difficult. Too many constituencies fight for resources that always seem to be too scarce. But we would hope that when it comes to the most vulnerable among us, we as an enlightened society would say we don’t play politics with kids. We’ve seen far too often what can happen.

Something horrific happens, we get angry, we judge, and we move on.

And wait for the next dead child.

The children deserve better. We should demand better.

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